Srs Eileen Cummins, Anne Cahill and Joan Murray

What a joyful celebration on Saturday as we gave thanks for our Diamond Jubilarians. It was wonderful to welcome the families of our sisters to Ardfoyle and celebrate in communion with one another. The pandemic has certainly taught us the value of coming together in person. 

Welcome Address, Jubilee Celebration, 10th September 2022, Ardfoyle

Good morning. You are all very welcome here today. We are here to rejoice and celebrate because on this day sixty years ago, Srs Eileen Cummins, Anne Cahill and Joan Murray, made their first profession in the religious life as OLA sisters! A special Céad míle fáilte to each of you our Jubilarians, and to your family and friends. Fáilte to all our OLA Sisters especially you who have come from our other communities to celebrate with us today. Fáilte to our main celebrant, Fr Eddie O’Connor SMA.

On the occasion of her Platinum Jubilee earlier this year, Queen Elizabeth II, God rest her, said: “I continue to be inspired by the goodwill shown to me, and hope that the coming days will provide an opportunity to reflect on all that has been achieved during the last seventy years as we look to the future with confidence and enthusiasm”. I hope that as Eileen, Anne and Joan experience our goodwill today and reflect over the past sixty years, they will be filled with gratitude for God’s many blessings received during this journey and will, like the Queen, look to the future of their own lives, of the OLA Congregation, and of God’s ongoing mission in the world, with confidence and enthusiasm.

To continue quoting Queen Elizabeth, on her diamond Jubilee, when addressing the House of Parliament, she said, “Over such a period, one can observe that the experience of venerable old age can be a mighty guide but not a prerequisite for success in public office.” Our Diamond Jubilarians are not yet in ‘old age’, but they have certainly served God and humanity for a venerable number of years and no doubt the wisdom acquired over these years is an invaluable treasure. As religious they have each been in ‘public office’ since our life as religious and as missionaries is a public witness to the primacy of God’s Love.  Again, as religious, we don’t measure success in terms of titles or accolades, but in terms of our fidelity to God and to the vows we profess. Sixty years ago Eileen, Anne and Joan professed publicly in the presence of their family, the OLA Sisters and the Church that they would live a life totally consecrated and dedicated to God in the service of God’s Kingdom, proclaiming through their witness, their words and their actions the Good News of the Gospel, especially in Africa. Now, these jubilee years later, we are gathered with them to thank God that they have, through the ups and downs, the challenges and trials, sought to remain faithful to that promise professed so many years ago.

Although all living the OLA mission, the journey of each of our three Sisters is unique to each one.

Eileen missioned in Leigh in England for a year shortly after first profession, and then, following studies in UCC, she set sail for Nigeria. In not chronological order, her missionary journey has involved about fifteen years in Nigeria teaching in a girls secondary school first in Kaduna and later in Ibadan; about three years in a new SMA-OLA collaborative project in Amsterdam, ministering in pastoral and social work especially with African migrants; ten years in Rome in congregational leadership during which she travelled worldwide accompanying our OLA Sisters and Mission; a year or so in Scotland ministering with the team in Kinnoul; and diverse periods in Ireland: in Cork, she taught for a year in her early days and later served for eight years in Provincial Leadership, from 2011 she accompanied our volunteers for Africa and helped in provincial secretarial and administration work;  and since 2015 she has been engaged in pastoral work in Claremorris and Knock. As we close our house in Claremorris, Eileen who alone has kept the fires burning there for the past many months, is now preparing to move to Ardfoyle where she will be hugely welcome. Thank you sincerely, Eileen, for all you have been and done through your years of generous and committed service, and for being always a faithful sister and a caring community member. May God be your strength as you say Goodbye to Claremorris and settle down again in Ardfoyle.

Anne taught in the Primary school in Ardfoyle for a year after profession, then did her studies in UCC, and in Sept 1968 set out with Eileen on their first mission tour, to teach in Kaduna, Northern Nigeria, where she was to spend the next twelve years. She had just been transferred to Ibadan and started in Maryhill school when she was recalled for provincial leadership here in Ireland. After five years serving in leadership, she did a year in vocation promotion work, during which she sent a few letters to myself (!). Then in December 1987 she left with Sr Bernadette O Connell for the OLA mission in Sudan where she spent six years. Called back for another five years on provincial leadership in Ireland in 1994, she then spent more years doing vocation promotion as well as looking after her aging mother with great love. Anne again returned to Africa in 2007, this time to Tanzania where she lived and worked in Mwamapalala. There she was so much loved and appreciated by the people, including the students in the secondary school where she taught and the children in the primary school where she gave English classes. In October she said her final goodbye to Africa and returned here to Ardfoyle, and while she is greatly missed in Tanzania we are delighted to have her among us, singing beautifully in the choir and being such a great presence here in the community. Mile buiochas Anne.

After first profession Joan worked for some years in SMA seminaries in Clough and in Wilton before training as a nurse and midwife in London, Manchester and Liverpool. Then, in 1973, after a short spell in Castlemagarrett (Mayo), she set sail for Nigeria where she ministered in Ikire, Ibadan, Abeokuta, Bachita, and Kaduna hospitals. Unfortunately, in June 1981, shortly after completing her training as a tutor and returning to Nigeria, due to serious illness, Joan had to leave the tropics and her field of ministry. I know those years of illness were very serious and on behalf of Joan and all OLAs I sincerely thank you her family, especially her brothers, without whose great sacrifice Joan would not have survived and would not have celebrated a silver never mind a diamond jubilee. May God reward you! Joan herself, given a new lease of life, has in the over forty years since then been engaged in many different fields of missionary and pastoral work, in West Green parish in London for five years, in JPIC work in Brentwood diocese in Essex (London) for nine years, and as a member of an IMU mission team in Athlone for three years. She then served in Provincial leadership for five years before moving to Dublin in 2008 where she was very actively engaged in the Lantern Centre, an intercultural interfaith centre where Joan led an international women’s group. Joan is now in Balbriggan in our newly opened international missionary community where together with Phil, Janet and Josephine they seek to be present in whatever way they can with the growing international community there. Thank you, Joan, for all you are and do and may God direct you and the new community in this courageous endeavour.

This is a very short brief of three well-lived lives of three inspiring women. Thank you, and Congratulations Sisters Eileen, Anne and Joan. Thank you to your family and friends who have supported you, thank you to the people who welcomed you, to the people who touched your lives and whose lives you have touched. I repeat to you the words Queen Elizabeth said on her Golden jubilee: “I hope that this time of celebration will not simply be an occasion to be nostalgic about the past. I believe that, young or old, we have as much to look forward to with confidence and hope as we have to look back on with pride.” We thank God for you, thank God for calling you, thank God for all God has done for you and through you, and we ask God to continue to bless you in the journey ahead.

We pray too that through your testimony, God will inspire young people in Ireland today to give their lives to God’s service; this is a good life, a worthwhile life, a relevant life.

May we enjoy our day. Now, let us express our thanks to God as we continue with our Eucharistic celebration. 

Go raibh míle maith agaibh.            

Kathleen McGarvey OLA, Provincial Leader